By Joe Holden

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center awarded its prestigious Liberty Medal to retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Sunday night. The honor recognizes the defense of freedom and liberty.

Past winners included prominent figures like John Lewis, John McCain, the Dalai Lama, Hillary Clinton and even Muhammad Ali.

For his 30 years on the Supreme Court bench, Kennedy was awarded the Liberty Medal.

Kennedy, tapped by President Ronald Reagan, was viewed as an independent thinker, a judge not tied to party lines.

“I can think of no award more appropriate for the man than the Liberty Medal,” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch said.

Gorsuch credits Kennedy with steering him in the right direction when he was just a young law clerk.

“Even in the seemingly easiest cases, he would follow the judicial process scrupulously from start to finish. He treated every case the same,” Gorsuch said.

Kennedy focused his remarks almost entirely on the Constitution.

“We are a nation of many creeds, many ethnicities, many religions, many backgrounds, but we are bound together by the Constitution,” Kennedy said.

Meanwhile, outside the center, a small protest condemned the Supreme Court justice’s siding with the justices who refused in the 1990s to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Usually very good people get this award,” Pro-Life Coalition President Mike McMonagle said. “But Anthony Kennedy has totally distorted liberty into license to do what you want to do rather than what you ought to do.”